Monday, April 27, 2009

Why Have Christians Abandoned Faith?

Faith is belief in absolutes. Not absolute belief.

The discussion was good natured, but also predictable. At first it was simply a theological question about the "rewards for the righteous in the Old Testament", but as it progressed it became more than that. As more people entered the discussion I saw again and again this idea of what a Christian "gets" for their "righteousness." After a while I logged off and stepped out of the debate.

It always strikes me how people who claim to be studying the Bible become puzzled and then upset when you raise questions for which they have no answers. Or when the answers they give are recycled from a Bible study they took ten years ago and don't make sense. Or worse, when the answers are part of the church creed, and therefore accepted because, well, they're part of the creed. There is this deep sense within much of the church that if you don't know the answer, you aren't "studying" enough. That to be a Christian is to be able to defend what you believe in rational form. The irony is that too often the church settles for the appearance of logic and reason, producing sound bites on talk shows as if the world must see how reasonable Christianity actually is, without considering the essence of faith. And in so doing, they preach a Wal-mart Christianity that is more interested in rewards than service. More interested in proof than questions. And more interested in assurances than doubt. In the end, what we have done is to create a religion that no longer needs faith. Here in the West, Christians have abandoned faith, and it's time to bring it back.

The definition of faith is this: belief that is not based on proof, and in Scripture we find this definition: belief in things unseen. In other words, faith is an assumption, a hopeful one perhaps, but an assumption nonetheless about what will happen or what has happened. Through the centuries, we have heard the expression "blind faith", implying that someone "believes without true understanding, perception, or discrimination."

This is a ridiculous statement, because blind faith is impossible. Often it is addressed towards people who follow others without questions. This has nothing to do with faith, blind or otherwise, and everything to do with ignorance and laziness and selfishness. It is an offense to the very idea of faith that this expression exists. And yet somehow, this expression actually fits into far too many descriptions of today's Christians simply because they are either afraid or unwilling to examine what they actually believe.

The saddest part is that so many of my fellow Christians are sincere, loving people, who have bought into the lie that faith must be blind or it is not faith at all.

Which begs the question that haunts me as I enter discussion after discussion with others in the church...

Why have Christians abandoned faith? Why have so many churchgoers swallowed the lie that what they believe must absolutely be true, or it is not Truth?

Think of the examples from our everyday life. It is hard to trust someone who is unwilling to concede that they may possibly be wrong, isn't it? So why then, do we allow our pastors and leaders in the church speak as though they are not only the mouthpiece of God, but God Himself? It is a hard thing, its true, but if one speaks with absolute surety of their views, we know two things. First, they are wrong, because no one is absolutely right about everything. And secondly, if they did know everything, it would be folly for us not to worship them, because, in essence, they are claiming to be God.

Ignorance is an easy tool, especially in a commoditized church that too often seems more interested in market share than people. Especially at the top of the food chain. It isn't that church leaders are not sincere; so much as, they believe that ignorance is okay among those who follow them. This is not unusual. For example, as much as we like to claim that our democracies are about equality, there is little real evidence of that. The rich rule the country. The rich countries rule the poor ones. It has always been such and I imagine it will always be. However, there is a distinct odour to that kind of thinking when it invades the church, this idea that "we know better than you do."

It also reveals something else at work in our belief patterns, the psychological dependence on these "emotional pillars." What would you say if I told you that the Bible contained some errors? How would your faith respond if I told you that the "Word of God" as John refers to in John 1:1 is not the Bible? (The Greek word is 'logos' not 'graphe' or 'writings', which only occur a couple of times. John was referring to the "ultimate good", a Greek philosophy his readers would understand, ala; Jesus was the 'ultimate good.') The question is important, because in too many of today's Protestants, there is a tendency to idolize Scripture, and instead of broadening our faith, we narrow it down and limit it to a single expression.

I understand much of this, coming from my own background as a Pentecostal pastor, but upon closer examination, it makes no sense. How can we, as Christians, be dogmatic about a story about a virgin birth and people raised from the dead?! Of course it takes faith! Big, open faith that says we accept this but understand that human error and mistakes also happen. How can we become so nasty about doctrinal differences when we believe the Son of God was born as a carpenter, announced by angels, performed many miracles, and had about 120 followers when he died?! Whatever causes us to believe it, it certainly isn't rationalism. And if that is the case, perhaps we need to scale back our assurances and adopt an attitude of humble and open faith. One that accepts we might be wrong. It doesn't mean we need to scale back our convictions, just the arrogance.

The idea of grace is that God moved first, so we have no claim to make for our belief systems. If that is what we believe, than shouldn't we be a bit more open towards people who do not agree with us? If God moved for us, isn't it His job to move for them?

At some point, we need to stop acting as if we earned our way into Christianity, and realize that faith is not about defending God, but loving others. Perhaps then, we will have better things to discuss than how many rewards we get because of our "righteousness."

-Steve